I Replaced the Solar Panels

I used to have 1000 watts of flexible solar panels on my Sprinter van. Check this post to see the old panels. I replaced them with 3 LG LG315N1C-G4 315 watt solar panels. I now have a 945 watt array instead of 1,000 watts.

The cheapest price I could find for the new panels were at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun. These are monocrystalline panels with an all black frame. So they stand out a little less than the aluminum colored frames. I decided on these mainly because the dimensions were exactly what I wanted. They fit perfectly in the roof rack I purchased and allowed me to utilize nearly all the space I have while still being compatible with my current charger and the existing wires I have running to the roof.

I mounted them on a VanTech roof rack I bought from amazon. I order two of the 2-bar racks. They also have a a 3-bar rack. They come in different colors and you have the option of steel or aluminum. I was very impressed with this rack. Some of the other brands had bad reviews about not being able to lock tight to the sprinter, but this rack feels like part of the sprinter once it’s mounted. If you push on them once they’re mounted, the whole van will rock. The black color worked well with the black frame solar panels. The width is a perfect match for the panels.

To attach the panels to the frame I used flat T-plates and extended the “T” portion by about a foot with aluminum flat bar. At the front, I just used 6 flat brackets.  I painted all the brackets black to blend in with everything else. Everything is screwed together with stainless steel screws and lock washers.

I wired the three panels in series using two of the existing wires running up to the roof. The other black wire was used to ground the frame of the panels and the ladder rack. Each panel frame is bridged with a short piece of wire attached the screws. I didn’t have to worry about grounding with the previous panels because they didn’t have metal.

Why did I get rid of the flexible panels?

  1. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the overhang of the old panels. Over time it they started to warp more at the edges. Even though I wasn’t happy with the overhang, I was too concerned with the stealth factor of flexible solar panels. I actually feel like this is more stealthy now. I should have done it this way the first time, but lesson learned.
  2. The VHB tape works extremely well with the painted metal, but I don’t think it bonded as well to the plastic of the panels. In fact, I still can’t get the tape off the van without ruining the paint. I was tired of worrying about them coming off in high winds.
  3. These panels will last much longer than the flexible solar panels. There is even a 12 year warranty with them.
  4. The flexible panels were constantly getting scuffed up and probably reducing the efficiency. The glass will hold up much better.
  5. The way I had to mount the flexible panels didn’t allow me to trouble shoot them or access any of the connections. Replacing a single panel would have been a nightmare. This way, I can easily test individual panels and replace them.

I’m very happy with these solar panels and the way I mounted them.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate Links. HurriedYear.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

  • Greg Wadlinger

    this was a very interesting post. I have actually from time to time wondered how those flexible panels were holding up. It’s interesting that you discovered how stealthy it can be to “hide in plain sight”.

    • Joe

      yeah this just looks like a black roof rack to me. You can’t really tell they’re solar panels unless you look closely.

      The flexible panels are do-able. I’ve seen various mounting options, but they’re all somewhat permanent such as rivets or other adhesives. I think this will be much better long term.

  • Discus

    I am building an electric bike (three wheels) with a solar roof. Weight is definitely a big problem for me. Do you think the flexible panel could do the jobs for me ? are they a lot lighter than your new ones ?

    • Joe

      Definitely much lighter. These are about 35lbs.

      • Discus

        thank you !!! from your website i found the link, and they say around 1.5 kg per 100 watts, which is very very light. great news for my project. Yours is much more advance. Have a great journey with your van !

  • Phil459

    Every time I see this (Or any solar set up) I always think one word: “Hail”. I know nothing of how durable solar panels are, but one day would like a set up similar to yours. How do you deal with things like hail, rocks flung up from vehicles when traveling, etc?

    • Joe

      Haha I actually had some hail a week after I installed these. I just cross my fingers I suppose. I mean I don’t thing the glass is THAT fragile. It’s all an experiment. We’ll see what happens later.

  • Art Bo

    thanks for sharing your setup. I was planning a similiar setup with 3 benq 330watt panels for the next year, do you have some average stats how much energy you get daily into your batteries?

    Your Rack on the roof is higher than your solarpanels, isnt this counterproductive? i mean there will be always some (small) shadow on your panels.

    • Joe

      I considered cutting the top of the roof rack off, but after experimenting with different shading it didn’t seem to make a difference. The shadows are diffuse and don’t fully cover a cell. Also if I park at the right angle, I can make the shadows run from front to back.

      The weather has been bad so far. Winter in South Carolina sucks. Getting about 2.4-2.5 kWH per day.

  • Zach Seaboldt

    I am currently working on converting to the van life myself, it all seems so practical and a great way to get the most out of life. However, there is one question that has kept nagging at me. How do you meet people and make friends living in a lifestyle where you are constantly moving? You seem to have no problem with this.

    • Joe

      Zach, I’m actually very introverted, but I’ve found it easier to make friends on the road than in my home town. When I’m traveling, my whole vibe changes. I think I look more approachable or something. I was amazed at how many people started approaching me. I also care less about what people think because I might not ever see them again. I meet people at coffee shops and book stores mostly. I’ve made a few friends through my website too. It’s not something to worry about. There are plenty of like-minded people living this life style to meet. Go to cool places and you’ll meet cool people. Once you meet them, you just have to say yes to opportunities. Before you know it, you’ll end up floating down a river with people you just met haha.

  • Lanette Racine

    Hey I just found you…Listening to vid’s & reading here…I’m looking for the air conditioner unit mentioned; can you tell me/us make/model information? Thanks in advance!

  • Lanette Racine

    Did I find the answer = haier 8000 btu portable air conditioner?? (you comment to someone 4 months ago here)

    • Joe

      haha yes, Sorry for the delay

  • David Golembeski

    Sorry I’ll late to the discussion, but do you have enough solar and batteries to power a 8000 BTU portable AC unit?

    • Joe

      Yep, that’ll be the next post I write.

  • Eric Park

    To keep driving your Dodge Sprinter indefinitely, I assume you would need an engine and transmission replacement down the road at some point. I know that Mercedes diesel engines are pretty reliable but you will probably need an engine replacement in the future, no? I would also like to ask if you have any plans to take a road trip across South America in your Sprinter? It would be an epic road trip if you could do it. I imagine myself taking such a road trip someday in a stealth camper van like the one you built. Cheers.

    • Joe

      Yeah I’ll either replace the engine or buy a new van. I’ll decide when I get there. South America is definitely on my bucket list